The Confession of Katherine Howard

Written by Suzannah Dunn
Review by James Hawking

At the opening of this novel, the fate of Henry VIII’s fifth queen has already been sealed, even though she remains optimistic that her husband will not find out everything or that he will forgive her if he does. Alternating chapters take us back to her story’s origins in the loosely supervised dormitory which the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk maintains for Howard girls and their connections. The story is narrated by Cat Tilney, a distant relative of the duchess who is hoping to advance in the world through Howard patronage. Young Katherine Howard becomes a leader of the girls upon her arrival. She knows or pretends to know more about what goes on between men and women than the others, and she increases her knowledge by kissing and petting and more with Francis Dereham. Cat becomes young Katherine’s confidant when her experiments advance to the point where they require contraception in the form of half of a lemon, an early IUD. A surprising sudden marriage makes her queen.

Katherine’s recklessness, especially intercourse with Thomas Culpeper, will eventually reach the tragic conclusion that the reader will already know. The book’s weakness is that the characterization of the young queen is more suited to comedy than tragedy. Adolescent sexual discovery leads to the realization that she will need a whole orchard of lemon trees. Later Cat understands that Katherine intends that Culpeper will provide England with an heir that old, fat, smelly King Henry is unlikely to produce. The subplot of Cat’s own relationship with Dereham adds little to the story and is also fated to end poorly. Not recommended.